"For the last time, I don't need your help! I can handle this myself! Go find someone else to pester!"
Auros clenched his jaw, the last of his patience almost gone. With what was left of his good will, he kept his tone low and calm. "Fine, you're on your own."
"Good!" Farothel didn't bother extending the same courtesy. "I don't need you constantly looking over my shoulder!"
Auros threw down the gloves he'd brought, the gloves he'd intended to wear while helping Farothel train. With one last wrathful glare at his cousin, Auros marched out of the clearing.
It wasn't until he'd left Farothel far behind him that Auros remembered he didn't have anywhere else to go. Aldawë is gone. Meneltir is gone. Everyone else is busy. His foot found a pebble just big enough to kick, so on down the path he kicked it, careful not to lose it in the grass. The pebble's journey led him to the training grounds.
Stalking down the main path, Auros spotted his dad sparring with some of the newer soldiers. Losing his right hand to an orc raiding party hadn't slowed the man down, and now he trained the new soldiers. Auros had seen this routine before: on the first day one of the other trainers would pick a trainee --- usually one who'd been shown to overestimate his skill --- to challenge "that guy over there". Some of the other trainees would egg him on, and one or two of those would be thrown into the fray with the first one "if they're so eager to see a fight". The two now locked in combat with his dad were realizing what they all came to realize: the easy match they expected was turning into a rout at a surprising pace, and if they were wise they'd gain a valuable lesson from the experience.
Not in the mood to watch them get knocked flat on their backs for their hubris, Auros made his way to one of the private clearings, took a wooden training sword from the weapon rack and began to work through the forms in the center ring. He started slow, focusing on the stances and strikes, but thoughts of Farothel crept into his mind, of how mad he was at Farothel for rejecting his help, of how his cousin might be faring right now. As those thoughts consumed his focus he started swinging faster, then harder. This brought him no peace, and after ten full-strength swings through the air, Auros clenched his jaw and plodded over to a smaller circle on the far side where a pell waited to be bludgeoned by soldiers practicing the proper way to strike an opponent.
The thud of wood against the padded areas of the pell, the forced halt in motion as the sword made contact: it was all more satisfying than swishing through the air. Now he could vent his frustration. Farothel didn't want help. Thud. Farothel didn't trust him enough to tell him about the fight. Thud. Farothel didn't even tell him why he was fighting. Thud.
Auros' jaw clenched again. His hands ached from the tightness of his grip on the sword. "What's so important that it had to come to blows? What's so important that he couldn't tell me about it?!"
"Make sure you replace the stuffing when you're done." Auros turned around to see his dad standing in the sparring circle, a wooden sword leaning against one shoulder and a satchel cast over the other. He had an affable demeanor to contend with Auros' scowl. "You want to try a real opponent? Don't worry, I'll go easy on you."
Auros couldn't help but smirk. "You haven't gone easy on me in years."
"That's right. I couldn't afford to anymore." Auros' dad grinned as he ambled towards the small circle. "How about you and Farothel?"
Auros went back to striking the pell. "We don't spar anymore."
"That's a shame. Why not?"
"I don't know. We were sparring one day, and not more than three or four strikes in he got mad at me, threw his sword down and walked away." Auros looked over at his dad. "It's not like I hit him hard or anything. I didn't hit him at all. I wasn't swinging so fast that I couldn't stop, and even if I were, he would've barely felt it through the armor."
"Well, that's the point of the armor, but it sounds like you were taking it easy on him."
"Because he's younger than me."
A thoughtful look settled on Auros' dad. "I see. So he's weaker than you."
Auros hesitated. "Not really."
"Not by much."
"He doesn't know the forms."
"He knows them."
Auros stopped swinging at the pell. "Because I'm supposed to protect him."
Auros' dad nodded. "I see. You think by never challenging him, never letting him get a true feel for his ability, you're protecting him? Or do you just think he couldn't possibly be as good as you?"
Auros tapped his sword on the ground. Chirping birds could be heard in the silence of the clearing.
"Come here son." Auros' dad pulled him close. "I'm proud of how far you've come, how much you've grown, but you still have further to go. What do you think would happen if I prevented you from facing the challenges you're ready to face?"
"Assuming you could."
"Exactly! Whether successful or not, if I tried it would not be good. You're going to face them whether I like it or not. There are many dangers in the world that I can't protect you from forever, as much as I wish I could. I can only hope that by the time you face them, I've done all I can to prepare you. There are also a great many wonders in the world, and you must be ready for those with equal courage. It's my duty --- it's my honor and privilege to teach you to discern these things for yourself, to do everything you can to make the best choice, the right choice, even when it's the hard choice."
"I know dad."
"You need to be able to stand on your own, but that doesn't mean you'll always have to. If you have people you can trust, don't be afraid to do so."
Auros grimaced. He knew where this was going. "You mean like Farothel."
Auros' dad rested his sword on the ground. "Is there any reason you can't?"
"No, it's just..."
"It's just that you're used to protecting him, and it's going to take some getting used to the idea that he can stand on his own two feet."
"I know, son." Auros' dad grinned as he slid his sword under his arm. "I know. There are more years between me and your uncle than there are between you and Farothel. When I left home, he could barely lift my shield. Imagine my surprise when I came back one year and he'd beaten some of the personal records I set at his age. Farothel's going to show you how capable he is. Will you celebrate with him, or will he do it in spite of you?" He reached into his satchel and handed Auros a pair of apples. "I have to get back to showing these trainees not to underestimate people. I trust that's a lesson you've already learned."
Auros left not long after his dad, mulling over their conversation while ambling towards the riverbank where he and his friends used to gather. Dad's right. Farothel can handle himself. I don't have to go easy on him. He needs to know I have faith in him. He needs to know I trust him to have my back.
"Auros!" Farothel ran up from an adjoining path. "Auros, I got him! I won!" Farothel was wearing the gloves Auros had thrown down after their argument.
Auros clapped his cousin's shoulder and gave him a big grin. "I knew you could do it." He reached into his pocket and handed Farothel one of the apples. "Tell me all about your victory."